This urban garden in the Pacific Heights district of San Francisco surrounds a single-family home. The house was designed in 1990 by the noted Bay Area architectural firm EHDD under the tutelage of the late Joe Esherick. When viewed from the home’s two balconies overlooking the site, the garden is a graphic composition of space, materials and planting. From this perspective the distant San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island slip into the view of the city spread out below the property. The garden is designed to carry the sense of the city’s urban fabric into the site. From within, the garden is intimately experienced as a sequence of outdoor rooms, their spaces and design features sequentially concealed and revealed as one passes through each threshold in the composition.
The garden is divided into a series of three enclosed garden rooms, each rigorously defined by architectural and/or planted edges. The variety of edge treatments—translucent glass, hand-troweled plaster, a curved bronze wall, and planting—explore the relationship between viewer and the adjacent off-site conditions. The walls between rooms are composed of clipped Prunus caroliniana hedges, fit within the structure of steel frames. Thresholds between the spaces create a sense of mystery and discovery as one moves through the garden.
Each room is distinct in form and quality. The first room, in need of light and privacy, is defined by translucent glass that emits light and reveals subtle forms from beyond the garden’s edge. This edge is reinforced with billowing Pelargonium tomentosum and Salvia cacaliifolia to bring a sense of nature and fragrance into the otherwise constructed space. The sculptural forms of multi-branched Osmanthus fragrans against a clean plaster wall terminate the view end of this space. The second room is dominated by the most dramatic element of the garden, a large curving wall made of bronze. From a slot in the wall, water cascades into a basin cut into the paving beneath. Placed against an adjacent building wall, the water feature creates a sensual edge to the quiet, introspective space. In the third room, the visitor gets a surprise vista of the city, the bay, and the Trans-America Building through an open windowlike panel in a translucent wall. The wall’s reeded glass panels layered over the neighbor’s Beaux-Arts balustrade acknowledges the pastiche of the city, and is a reference to changing styles of architecture over time. A lemon tree, espaliered against a plaster wall, aligns with the garden’s axial view.
The garden employs large swaths of contrasting materials to create a bold graphic composition: light limestone paving which glows in the San Francisco fog is punctuated with bands of wooly thyme; dark granite stone is etched with pallid spirals to evoke a mosaic. The planting palette is restrained; shades of green and grey with white flowers give precedence to form over color. Bold textured foliage contrasts dramatically with the materiality of the space. The combination of material selection and structural composition respond to the simple, distilled forms of the house. The garden becomes a literal extension of the house for everyday living while still relating to its adjacent urban form.